Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ken Vandermark solo - Alchemia 29.11.2010

by Krzysztof Penarski

Solo concerts could be considered very demanding. Both for the audience and, especially, for the artist. Nowhere to hide, no distractions, everything stripped to basics, naked.

Ken Vandermark has already a solo recording ("Furniture Music" Okka 2003) on which he presents his various inspirations ranging from music of all kinds (jazz, free improv, blues, classic) to modern visual arts or cinema. On this particular evening he took us to travel with him through all jazz history and it was simply put an amazing lesson.

First piece (tenor) was dedicated to Coleman Hawkins who was the first to record solo saxophone music. And it starts with this soulful, smoky and elegant tone, true spirit of jazz, and you instantly know that this evening will be special. Ken presents the story of jazz through spectrum of his personal inspirations on each particular horn. With third piece he introduces bass clarinet and Eric Dolphy, fifth piece finds him playing the clarinet and is dedicated to John Carter. Each piece is like a portrait, or a nucleon of idea, based on some timbre, or technique, gradually expanded upon, sometimes moving in circles, sometimes very linear. The sitxth piece is slow and solemn and simply beautiful, it makes me think of some old religious songs (could be dedicated to Jimmy Giuffre if not for the fact that Jimmy would get his portrait in 2nd set).  After two pieces on each horn he gets back to bass clarinet and dedicates next one to Peter Brotzmann draws inspiration in Peter's raw, passionate and always full of tension sound. But, if stripped of all the over(under,side)tones, this piece is very melodic (like many Ayler's marches) which is an aspect of Brotzmann's music one so easily oversees. He ends the first set on tenor with "Sweet Dragon" by Joe McPhee.

2nd set starts with dedication to already mentioned Jimmy Giuffre on clarinet. In its course Ken will pay his respect also to Anthony Braxton (bass clarinet), Evan Parker (tenor), Steve Lacy (clarinet) and finish the main part of the concert with a composition that (his words) seems to suit well these 'screwed up times' - "Love Cry" by 'the Jackson Pollock of saxophone' Albert Ayler, who completely changed the language of the saxophone playing and to whom pretty much all the players of the avant-garde are hugely indebted. Ken called on all the spiritual passion and power of Ayler's playing.
Obviously the very attentive and appreciative audience would call him Ken back on stage for an encore piece - an emotional clarinet dedication to Anna "Czarna" Adamska (the spirit-movens of Alchemia for many years, now in Sanok). And after that for another one - tenor piece again by Joe McPhee (missed the title). After which everyone remained silent looking for words for quite a while.

I apologize for this kind of 'listing' so far but there would be no point in describing all of the pieces, nor it would be possible since I stopped taking any notes by the beginning of the 2nd set, trying to follow the music without thinking about what I could write about it after. There was in this music everything one could expect from a player of this stature and this genre. Imaginative soloing, some extended techniques, both solemn and lyrical or wild and out playing. A great, elegant tone, and those moments when you can fell the sound is trying to explode and escape the notion of 'note' in every way possible, packed with all kinds of overtones, sidetones, undertones, body of the instrument clapping and so on. When you try to wrestle with the sound trying to get inside it as deep as possible.
Most of the pieces in 1st set would have some kind of rhythmic pattern or bass-line phrase (or use of breath-cycle as a rhythmic base) that would return, with Ken keeping the time tapping his foot or moving his body (he puts this inner rhythm structure in his playing that makes his duos with drummers such a great listening). 2nd set could be considered more abstract (not very surprising when you re-check the 'portraits'' heroes) although that is obviously a huge oversimplification. But that is all somehow on the surface, on the outside, that was not what this evening was about.

What (I feel) it was about, although I struggle now mightily trying to put in writing, was the deeply emotional and honest playing. The setting was incredible intimate, with audience right beside the musician and the music, the playing heartfelt and full of warmth, the concept of sharing some kind of a musical autobiography so open, true and personal. Never copying or emulating but drawing inspiration from all those great musicians of both past and present. This concert was not about any particular technique or master skills (although Ken has that in abundance). It was about the close and deep relationship with this music, and this place.
Stunning, beautiful and emotionally exhausting. Yet so rewarding.

Thanks a lot to Ken, Alchemia and to Marek Winiarski who pushed Ken to do this (the concert was recorded, members of the audience will negotiate but Ken doesn't want to hear about a double cd :)
Thanks a lot to Jarek who played Coleman Hawkins piece before the concert which ticked the whole concept of the performance. Gil Evans and James Brown after the concert were great too and it was inspiring to see Ken so passionate about the music both as a musician and listener.
Next concert today :)
and after that party with Ken as a DJ, going to be funky :)

birthdays of Johny Dyani, Sylvie Couvoisier and Eivind Opsvik (some links on facebook)  :)

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